On a tip-off from an anonymous source with a big red nose and a stink of booze I headed sleuth-like to number 60 South William Street in Dublin.
The shop is not what you’d call a bijou boutique. The carpet with its dizzying mix of colourful circles and black arrows is rather garish, while the bright lighting and the single naked counter hark back to the mundane surroundings of a 1970’s shoe shop. It is the perfect place from which to sell the good old geansaí Nollaig.
This is the headquarters of Funky Christmas Jumpers which was started six years ago by Dubliners Donal McSharry (27) and Fabio Molle (30) who saw a gap in the market when at a festive gathering together in the capital.
“The idea really came from frustration at not being able to get Christmas jumpers ourselves for a Christmas party we were at,” says McSharry. “We saw people at the party with jumpers, having a lot of fun and we felt a bit left out. We thought there would be a bit of a market in it. So we set about getting some made up for the following year.”
Sales increased and in 2011 they opened their first shop. Unlike many retailers, Funky Christmas Jumpers was online before it was in store and much of the company’s focus remains on their website.
“We have shipped to 46 separate countries and that’s one thing we really want to grow,” says McSharry. “Some Arab actually bought the whole collection there in Abu Dhabi last week. We have a package which includes all 17 jumpers, two pairs of socks, a hat, a limited edition jumper and the best part, a personal call from our elf for €750.”
With 32,000 Facebook friends, 9,000 Twitter followers and an easy-to-navigate website it’s no surprise the pair have won a number of awards for their social media activities.
While trying on my first of many jumpers, I notice a picture of One Direction singer Niall Horan among a mirror of photos that turns out to be a veritable galaxy of stars.
“That was down in his living room,” says McSharry nodding at the picture.
“That’s me on the right and Fabio on the other side and he’s in the middle wearing one of our jumpers. We hunted him down. You can run but you can’t hide. Once you’re on the hit list, there’s no escaping.”
This mirror of glam and glitz is rather impressive in its own UTV-on-a-Saturday-night way. Among those wearing the company’s attire are Glenda Gilson, Harry Styles, Kim Kardashian, Tommy Bowe and Jimmy Magee. Then, of course, I spot Tubridy who has worn the jumpers on the last two Toy Shows. The boys are keeping schtum as to whether he has gone to them again. Even the threat of torture — listening to me sing Jingle Bells repeatedly — is not enough to make them speak. The scouting for celebrities won’t stop there.
“We sent one to Russell Brand, a Jesus jumper, and we’re waiting to hear back from him,” says McSharry. “Graham Norton was sent his yesterday. I’ve hunted down Justin Bieber as well and he has 46m Twitter followers so hopefully that’ll blow it up. We’re just being ambitious with our celebrity endorsements.”
Knowing full well how important and culturally relevant their current customer is, the guys ask me to model a few jumpers for them. In the spirit of Christmas I decide to wave my modelling fee (hear that Naomi?) and I get straight into it. All jumpers are designed in house by McSharry and Molle, and from a quality point of view they are good; considering how much commotion most of these jumpers are likely to see, they probably need to be.
I decide to try on the green Elf Jumper made famous by Tubs on last year’s Toy Show; just to see who looks better. The verdict? Your journalist tops the (North) poll. The reason for that becomes evident when I try on a navy blue reindeer jumper and see Harry Styles looking back at me from the mirror.
Alas, it is just a picture of the One D star and not my reflection; though we have been told there are similarities between us. After a few wears of a few flashing Christmas tree jumpers it’s time to put on this year’s current favourite.
“I suppose the Happy Birthday Jesus is our favourite this year,” says Molle. “We’ve sold out in XL and XXL, I suppose people like to wear large sizes; it is a time of indulgence. This one seems to have captured the hearts of our fans.”
A quick walkabout outside seems to clarify Molle’s assumption.
“We have Christmas sweaters but not ones as good as that,” says Alexandra Steinhaus from California, pointing at my Happy Birthday Jesus jumper. “I was about to walk in because it looks funny. I think I’d go for the ‘I Love Xmas’ one or the Elf one. I love Christmas sweaters.”
“I wasn’t expecting to see Jesus on a Christmas jumper to be honest,” says 17-year-old Art from Dublin. “But yeah it’s ok. I wear them all the time. I’m just waiting to get them out. I like the one you’re wearing.”
Back inside I meet Mary Griffin and David McDonald shopping together. This is not their first time buying Christmas jumpers.
“I have one already,” says Mary. “You have to have one. We’re preparing. It’s funny this one. It’s the first one you notice. I’d say we’ll get three wears out of them throughout the season at least.”
As the morning wears on, the shop becomes quite difficult to navigate. The elves are doing a roaring trade and it becomes apparent that like all good things my modelling session needs to come to an end.
Before I leave, with a brand new jumper kindly given to me by the lads, Donal has a moment to reflect on where the business is right now. “I’m not sure what we expected really at the start,” says McSharry. “The last two years has seen a big growth, probably because of the One Direction guys and the Kardashians – that’s propelled it to a whole new level. Our slogan is, ‘Putting smiles on faces since 2008’. That’s what we’ve been trying to do since the recession and hopefully we still are.”
Watch out, Santa.
It seems like everyone has jumped on the Christmas jumper bandwagon this year. Dunnes Stores’ range begins at €12 for kids (inset) and €15 for adults, and can be seen at url=http://www.dunnesstores.com]dunnesstores.com[/url], while Penneys have a range in store, from €10. Tesco’s children’s options start at €10 and adults start at €22.
Aldi has Ladies’ Christmas jumpers for €12.99 each, in sizes S-L. At the upper end of the market, designer Henry Holland has come up with some lovely smart ‘n’ stylish jumpers for Debenhams, from €50.50.